Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sustainable Design 2.0 - The case for Evolutionary Design - Part 2

So how then can we incorporate an evolutionary concept into products to ensure their evolvement over the period of use by the users. Well, there are of course several ideas that one has to be aware of in dealing with such a concept altogether and I would like to cull some of the more important ones that could perhaps be considered:
  • Depth and breadth of user/product: I think one area that product designers should consider is the evolution of the targeted users over time and space, naturally. But more importantly, what I am trying to tease out through the lenses of 'Depth and Breadth' over here is the fact that the breadth, or scope of use, by the user, of the intended product/s WOULD change over the course of their natural lifetime. One case in point that I notice while researching on this topic was the idea of a handphone. I did see a report in the local media about how a company overseas is currently trying out a new model of a handphone that has only 3 buttons! And their target users? 4-year olds! A few weeks later, I also happen to come across an article whereby, in another totally unrelated location, another company overseas are currently looking at designing handphones for the elderly that has 3 buttons too! I mean isn't it uncannily strange that such concepts are really universal in nature, and to think that it is  happening on different sides of the globe. So perhaps in this context, what we can propose is a design that would follow on with the a user over his or her lifespace. So in the example that I give, the users might start off with a 3-buttoned handphone, which will evolve, through a modularity design concept, into perhaps the atypical phone. Or in reverse, it could be a situation where the users starts off using the phone in a typical manner, and it will evolve into the 3-buttoned phone as the user grows out of its multiple uses, and just needed something that can make calls to: his doctor, his favourite son, and perhaps the third one to his favourite takeaway stall!
  • Multiplicity of users: Why should we just focus on a single user while designing products for the consumers. I personally think that such a situation persists simply due to the overarching need for companies to ensure that they are able to sell as many as they can. And thus to ensure that, they are going on a marketing blitz that dwells on your individuality as a user, about portraying your own style...this whole notion of showcasing your own self as a person, and not be part of a herd mentality. But the truth is, we are naturally social animals that conforms to a herd mentality since our first existence, and to then make it NOT a selling point is something, well, just counter productive. I mean seriously, how many variations of the same product can a brand has, it can't definitely be in the thousands and millions! And this is where my argument comes in, about this idea that there could only be ONE user throughout the entire lifespan of the product. Some case in point will be the practise of 'hand-me-downs' that usually one would associate with the clothing items of younger siblings in a family with more than 1 child. How about if we extend that argument to the idea that one can also 'hand-me-down'ed to someone else when one leaves a particular space or situation? Living spaces and job roles are 2 natural ideas that comes to mind.
  • 'Fashion' updates: I think one of the strong argument against having the same product over a longer period of time (and perhaps even this whole idea of Evolutionary Design) would be the argument that things do get out of style. No matter how one would want to show that this is somewhat more about the fickle-mindedness of the consumer, rather than anything else, one can't run away that styles, and a sense of being the one to own the latest gadget, is something that brands can't run away from in order to survive. But shouldn't this whole notion of being a trend-setter change? Can't we rethink this thing about what style or fashion is all about, and perhaps move into looking at fashion changes, as more like fashion 'updates'. Think of it as somewhat like a firmware or software updates for your computer system, and I think you would be able to figure where I am coming from. Updates here could be in the soft-system aspects of things, rather than the 'hardware' per se. One exciting idea that I did come across was the research and development work done by Intel on 'changeable' matter. This is definitely something revolutionary (and perhaps evolutionary too!), as it will allow designers to create that change through the change of the very property of the matter (or materials) through some tweaking of the parameters that the product is made of. If you have seen the bad guy in the second Terminator movie, the shape-shifting robot that they send to kill the protagonist, I think you would be able to visualise what I am describing here. Imagine that we could do that to our say, mobile connectors. With some quick 'matterware' updates, imagine our gadgets updating to 'look' and work like the latest ones out there! Wouldn't that be so cool?
 There are more ideas and concepts that I would I would like to bring up. Perhaps this would warrant another blog post. Until then, enjoy the read.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sustainable Design 2.0 - The case for Evolutionary Design - Part 1

I began to revisit my own ideas and reflections about what design is all about recently as I prepare my curriculum in my new work place. One thing that I would like to revisit, and perhaps ‘preach’ about is the whole idea of Sustainable Design, the idea that products are supposed to be self-sustaining, the idea that when one embarks upon the design of any types of products, the role of the designer, or designers, should be to ensure that the product itself would have minimal or no adverse effects on the environment.

However, upon reflection, would these necessarily be good enough? I remember in my 2nd year of work after my graduation, as a young design engineer, this whole notion of ‘Eliminating Waste’ as opposed to ‘Reducing Waste’, was rather new. Propounded by, of course the Japanese, through their eyes of Kaizen or constant improvement, the whole ‘Eliminating Waste’ idea was to look at waste as something to be abhorred. This definitely took designers on a slightly different route towards a more environmentally route in their lines of work, but upon looking back, is the mere elimination of waste sufficient at all? Could perhaps this notion of eliminating waste too was more influenced by humanity’s realisation that they have no more physical and literal space to host their wastes, rather than a noble manifestation of them really wanting to do something about the environment. But I should not dwell on that in this post.

The idea that I would like to put forward is something that I’ve blogged about...this whole idea that Sustainability should be more than just about thinking of the birth-to-grave concept of product design and development. Why not eliminate the idea of the product even dying at all? Could we just design something that perhaps have an almost unlimited lifespan, or at the very least, make it possible for these products to lead a much longer shelf life than they do currently? This notion is something that I’ve coined before as Evolutionary Design - an area of design that perhaps look at the notion that the product is itself ‘growing’, or ‘evolving’, together with its intended users.

One case in point was the Stokke’s bed for babies (my post here), which is a classic example of what creative thinking, and a deeper understanding of how humans grow and evolve, would enable a product to have an (almost) unlimited lifespan, perhaps only governed by human fickleness for newer styles and designs. But then again I’m digressing right now, and perhaps this could also be something that designers could be looking into as new materials and possibilities emerge in these exciting times.

Perhaps what I am propounding now is the whole idea that a product should grow together with its owner, or owners. So on a larger scale, the whole house should be transformable into customisable living spaces, that are easily configured to suit differing needs, over time and space. I think there are already living and work spaces in other parts of the world that are suited for these functionality, and I think it will just be a matter of time before this is a standard practice all over.

And how about product design, the ones that people would usually associate with those practical, day-to-day gadgets? Well I can’t think of one at the moment, but definitely one area that we can look at are items that we take for granted in our day-to-day usage of them, or perhaps those that has the tendency to go out of style. The humble umbrella perhaps, or a modular remote controller! Or how about our shoes, yes our shoes! The challenge would be then to ensure its relevance in this fickle-minded society of ours, where fashion tendencies WILL change over a shorter period of time. But like I said, this is perhaps a secondary component with which the advent of marketing and new technologies can resolve creatively.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What IS your symbol of play?

This is an interesting presentation by Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO. Some ideas that are worth revisiting and reflecting is the idea on the symbol of play. Each iconic innovative organization in the world has an icon that symbolizes PLAY, a symbol of perhaps that whilst they are working, it does not stop them from creating the notion that work and play should not be something that is mutually exclusive.

Another idea worth looking at is the sad fact that as one grows older, one tends to become less and less creative. I definitely don't want that to happen in my classrooms, and I hope I won't live to see the day that my students find me a total bore, and would rather be doing something else, than be engaged by me.

The third and last thing that I would like to touch on is the idea of role-playing and modeling as a means towards creating empathy, something perhaps I have touched on in one of my earlier posts on the 6 facets of understanding. Interesting to note that perhaps one of the best tool for creating a more user-centric product is to first and foremost be empathetic about the problems posed, and what better way than to role-play it out.

There are lots more morsels of interesting bites that are contained in this video. All I can say is that if you have 28 minutes to spare, just have a look at it. Enjoy:

The rise of the micro-micropreneurs

It is interesting that of late, there are a significant number of internet-based businesses that are cropping up, and that are run by just setting up a website on an almost freely-available platform, coupled with a little bit of ingenuity and some niche marketing. I must say congratulations to these people who have taken that first step, perhaps a bold one even, to take on this challenge of becoming your own boss. I would like to call them micropreneurs, due to their current small-scale mode of operations, and their sometimes even more-niche target consumers.

In fact, I am myself tempted to take that step too, to become a micropreneur myself. It doesn't help that I am constantly surrounded my innovative people, that somehow or rather, have triggered that innate micropreneur spirit in me! Well I must say I once tried to set up not one, but two such micro-businesses online, only to find out that the business model that I was adopting is not sustainable. Of course it didn't fly, but then again, surprisingly, I don't have any regrets about it at all. In fact it just makes me more determined to relook at my model, and perhaps come out with something that would work, and be sustainable in the near future.

And leading that discussion is the very idea that perhaps, asking students to be micropreneurs could be just the sort of thing that would really encapsulate the very ideals of Applied Learning and Holistic/Integrative Education. It doesn't matter that they might just be starting out by selling bookmarks, or ice cream in the school's fun fair, what matters more is that they are willing to do it, and are able to know the intricacies of how to start a microbusiness, and sustain it over a certain period of time. I do believe that being a micropreneur is an almost perfect platform for us to develop our students to be able to equip them with the necessary skillsets for their very survival in this uncertain future. But I need to disqualify myself with the word 'almost', because, if we are not careful and just allow businesses to grow with the sole concern of just making money, at the expense of values and such, then we could also be leading and teaching them the wrong things (aka values) too. This is where we just have to be more mindful about what the key objectives are when we set off to encourage them to start working on a business. Is it just about making more money, or more about values? It would be nice to have both, but then, sometimes, these are the very shades of grey that I was mentioning earlier in my post, the same ones that would either turn him into a better man (or woman), or just let him astray into the dark side.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Re-Understanding 'Understanding'

I do have the pleasure of revisiting and questioning some of my teaching approaches these past few months, as I make preparations to develop and refine my institution's curriculum further. It is good to have that luxury of time and space, no matter how little it may be, to reflect on what you have done as a teaching professional. I do believe it is only fair that in as much as we want our students to learn, we as teachers, must also be relearning ourselves. We should set the example, and just like what my boss said a couple of weeks ago, we as teachers are actually teaching our students what we are. Interesting concept actually, but upon reflection, it is indeed true. Can you remember how so many times we as teachers have taken the prescriptive approach and role of deciding for these students what is right or wrong, what is the 'right' way of doing things, and what is 'wrong'. But in reality, all things do not necessarily gravitate into clear shades of black and white. There are certain things that exists within the middle shades of grey, and if the predispositions and the values that we imbue in our students are not grounded strong enough, or if it is left to be unfacilitated, then all I can say is that we might actually see a preponderence of young adults that would grow up to have questionable value systems.

Which leads me to the reflections that I have on this thing about 'Understanding'. So many times, we as professionals and educators, have faltered in clarifying our understanding about what understanding is all about. Can you count how many times do we take the easy way out of assuming that students have understood what we have taught by just being able to do the homework and assignments that we have given to them? Or conversely, the number of times that we have enlightened the students' perspectives of the knowledge content by enlightening them even further, and perhaps make them SEE the knowledge that they have just learnt, into something that is even, should I say, deeper?

This short slideshow on the idea of understanding is one of those things that I have uncovered these past few weeks, thanks to my boss. It is good to know that I am constantly re-learning at my present environment, and I guess I won't just stop anytime soon, or for that matter, anytime at all. I hope my dear readers would begin to appreciate what understanding is all about, by looking at it from the proposed 6 facets in the slideshow. Enjoy!

"The Best I Could"

For my non-FB friends, a review of a book that I just read:

"The Best I Could", by Suhhas Anandan
An interesting read indeed into the minds and early years of Singapore's best criminal lawyer. About what makes him tick; the early years that he experiences that shapes him to what he is today, a brazen, but dedicated defence lawyer that will almost go all out to defend his clients, no matter that most of them are people whom the public have already 'convict'. What sets him apart is not the fact that he defends them for the sake of defending them, but more so in the belief that the system works and that it should and ought to work even for those that the public have already made up their minds. It's about the very ideals that even the worst of criminals do deserve a fair hearing at the courts. And interestingly, his own reflections also mentioned about possibilities, about whether some of the things that he has done are correct, especially so when one hears of criminals returning back to their old ways because they had gotten away in their earlier transgressions. The last chapter about keeping promises also throws a light on his innate character, of one who would keep up to his end of the deal, and seems to me to be the most touching too.

When the butterfly flutter its wings?

Have you heard of the butterfly effect? The effect that theorizes the possibility that when a butterfly flaps its wings in China, it can actually cause a storm in the West. Well it is really hard to believe that such a thing can possibly happen, but after having several bouts and moments of the 'fluttering butterfly effect' over the last few years, I just can't help but to revisit some of the milestones in my life, and reflect about the decisions and possibilities that I have made. You know those forked paths in your live that forces you to make a decision, to choose a path to move ahead, to select a major one that perhaps could have repercussions and implications to what is going to happen to you further down your journeys. I know I have a couple of those, in fact I think quite a number of those, some of which I must say still left me with that niggling feeling of, 'What would happen to me if I chose the other one?'. I must say there were a few major ones that I came across, perhaps to name one is that time when I rejected the PSC scholarship that was offered to me way back in early 1990's! Sometimes I do wonder what would happen to me right now if I were to take up that scholarship, I mean it might just be a life-changer, but then again, it might not be after all! No one would ever know right?

And how about that decision by my father to travel southwards from his hometown in Johor down to Singapore, when he was just a teenager? What would happen if he did not even want to make that move, that journey! Maybe, just maybe i might not even exist, or perhaps might be know as irfan 'something', or might be known by any other name except irfan darian. Funny how things just seems to fall in place, somehow...everytime.

Maybe that is why I am an optimist, a cynical idealistic optimist! Because I also do believe that everything happens for a reason, whether good or bad...there's always a reason! They call it 'Hikmah'.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

If it ain't broke, don't fix it...

It has been a wild ride so far, a ride that surprisingly I won't trade places for anything else, a ride perhaps that could only happen once, or even twice in a person's life, much like marriage I guess. It is one of those things that would sap almost everything out of you, but would then reward you with an infinite degree of satisfaction. Crazy? Sadistic? Haha, is just one of those things that I feel I just needed to do, to perhaps be the change, or to make that change, rather than waiting for someone to make that change, or something to happen! After all, it is not everyday in your life that you'll be part of something new, or exciting, and in my case, both!

But people do ask why do we want to change at all? Why after the work that I have done and established, do I want to fix something that ain't broke! Well I think it is not about fixing something that is broke. And firstly, it ain't even broke! It is about teaching and educating after all, not about teaching the subject, but about teaching the child, no, it is about EDUCATING the child. Because i do feel that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, we'll just make it better!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tolerance of an idealist

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech spoke about how so very important religious and cultural tolerance is in this pluralistic society of ours. About how the need for one group to be socially, culturally and religiously (SCR) aware of others is so important, less we become an Asian Bosnia! There could never be a place, or space, for any form of SCR chauvinism of sorts in our society, and these was clearly demonstrated when PM Lee talks in great length, and in fact apportioned a significant portion of his speech on this. This is something that perhaps must be constantly, and continually be emphasised, especially to the younger generations, as they are the ones who are ill-equipped with the experiential accounts of what going along the wrong path have led to in the past, and more so with the instant connectivity that the world has to offer right now, and their greater exposure to external influences, both good and bad.

Which led to one idea that pops up in my head during one of my intellectual discourses with my significant other a few days ago. The fact here is that we do have Muslims, or for that matter, non-Christian students studying in mission schools; why can't we then extend this concept to the local madrasahs (Islamic religious schools)? Is it possible for our madrasahs to open up their schools to non-Muslim students, who just wants to study about Islam a little deeper, without perhaps being burdened with the pressure of becoming a Muslim in the end, or without being proselytized by the academic staff and/or others? Would our educational landscape generally, and perhaps the Islamic one specifically, be open to such an idea? Perhaps only time can tell.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Testing out Google Maps function

I'm just testing out a Google Maps function by embedding this into one of my blog entries. It's a route map to travel from Clementi Avenue 6, where my current school is located, to Tampines Avenue 1 (just a hypothetical destination).

View Larger Map

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Drawing life's parallels from my morning drive (Part 3)

It is enlightening at times to see the parallels that one can draw from a morning drive. Take for one, how a driver has to slow down before making a turn, or to filter in into a slip road. Just like life itself, one has to slow down when making that 'turn' in his or her life, or when making major decisions, or when embarking on new endeavours. You just can't drive at the same speed when turning in into that corner, lest your vehicle lose its grip and something unpleasant happens. And sometimes, depending on how sharp the turn is, one has to be sure that at least one hand is on the steering are risking an accident if you so decide to let go. Like life itself, you just can't leave everything to fate (by letting go), you have to take control of the steering wheel and manouver your way through, or in this case, around the turn/corner.

And how about the feeling when one feels when cruising along an expressway at 90 km/h. Isn't is nice! Time to view what's on your left and right, perhaps to take in the sights, and sometimes the sound, of what the drive has to offer. I guess sometimes we do need to cruise along to 'smell and see the flowers'. I wonder just how many times have I managed to do that, or how many times my dear readers have done that. Don't let the drive consume you, because you never know when would be the next time you cruise along like that, or move along on that road again. So my advise to all, please do take some time to enjoy the view, to take in the sights and sounds, to just enjoy the drive for what it is, a leisurely journey to your destination.

So how is your morning drive going to be like tomorrow?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Drawing life's parallels from my morning drive (Part 2)

The basic idea of my second part of this article is that life is just not about you alone. Yup that's right, that egocentricity that most of us is getting used to, and with the pervasiveness of social networking tools, will not get us anywhere if we do not take into account the lives of others. Much like how we would need to be mindful of all our blind spots, and perhaps even considering the way other people are driving, whether they are changing lanes, driving slowly on a fast-moving lane, slowing down to make a turn or to look at an accident scene, or perhaps just trying to be a Type A ('A' for anal here) driver here, all these things would need to be taken into account when one wants to have a safe and comfortable drive on the road. It is indeed wonderful that for live to be more meaningful, we do need to take into account all these other social variables in our lives, much like how we would need to be mindful of all the other users on the road! Drawing parallels here, LIFE is indeed not just about YOU alone!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Drawing life's parallels from my morning drive (Part 1)

It seems strange for me that now, with a higher propensity for me to go on longer drives to and from work, it just gives me more time to reflect about life, not necessarily mine, but interesting enough I guess for me to plan to pen some articles here.

My first one would be to question the need for one to be really in the fast lane of life, so as to move ahead faster. The oxymoronic thing that I have realised for this last few days is that I won't really get to go further and faster if I am driving in the faster lanes! i.e. Lane 1. What would really get me going, at a slow and steady pace of 40 km/h instead, is when I drive on the last lane, the slowest of the lanes, the ones that would be usually be occupied with the larger and slower-moving vehicles! Now why is this so? I guess if you think about it, and just from thinking from a simple logical point of view, when once these long vehicles make their filters and turns to the side roads, they would leave a gap that is large enough for me, the regular car-driver, to be able to move ahead a much longer distance, for the same amount of effort. Drawing life's parallels, I guess it does struck me that even though we are in a slow lane sometimes, but it doesn't really mean that we would be stuck, and won't move as fast as those in the other, faster lanes. Perhaps if we are able to move these larger blocks of vehicles to the sides, we would definitely be able to move, and perhaps even move faster than those in the 'faster lanes'! Funny isn't it, that I am drawing some life's parallels from my morning and evening drives. But I guess that's just me, the ever constant reflector of my own life.

So if you are in your own slow lane, what are the large vehicles in your life?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

When 2 birds in the bushes is better than 1 in your hand

It is all about choices really, about the fact that people over here really love the idea that they are able to satisfy their own inner desires for something different, based on their own customised choices and selections. And more so with the oxymoronic retail idea of mass customisation that has been pushed through into the masses, this concept does seem to take hold everywhere. From the selection of shoes and clothes, right up to even the wide array of food that we have, and are able to eat everyday. All it seems right now is about choices...we do have a wide variety to choose from. But somehow deep inside me I do notice that it is not, at times, just about the mere having of a wide selection of choice that matters more, but it is also about the IDEA of having a wide choice too for the consumers to choose from.

A case in point: How many times have we been bombarded with information telling us that this particular item or product comes in a variety of colours (the IDEA of having choices), but when we go down to the store and actually want to purchase it, there is already a limit to what's available left on the shelves (sorry Sir/Ma'am, but that colour/size is no longer available, it is out of stock!). So the IDEA is the main draw here! Which leaves me to wonder further, if what we want is no longer available, as in it is out of stock, does that mean that what we desire originally is something that most other people would have already wanted, or worst still (gasp), have already owned before us! So technically and logically, if we would want to be different, we would just stick with those that are still available in the shelves, barring the fact that it is totally out of sync with our wardrobe colours! So logically, shouldn't we not lament about the 2 birds that are in the bushes, and just buy the one that is on the shelves, the one that is (almost) in our hands?

Hmmm, and the debate continues! :)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Google, the migrant and the native

Google's recent announcement to create their own OS, I think, is one of those eventualities in life that will eventually unfold itself, very much like death and taxes! But more importantly, the rationale of them doing so is in their belief that the current OS'es were designed in an age where Internet was not THE main tool of communication. Fast forward to the current time and age, it might just be true, but until I get to see their final product, I should hold my comments for another day. But what I do admire most is in their spirit to change and innovate, and perhaps, to hopefully challenge the conventional idea of what an OS should be, or ought to be.

Which brings me to the argument that I have regarding this polarisation of digital natives and migrants. Tying in closely with Google's reasons for coming out with their own OS that would be leveraging on new technologies, shouldn't teaching and learning pedagogies too be also embarking on such a similar journey of change. I mean if we are going to be moulding children that would land jobs that we ourselves are not familiar with, shouldn't the whole scheme of things, of how teaching should be, and how learning is going, or ought to be, also change to take into account these very multi-dimensionality of human's capacity to learn. And perhaps, for arguments' sake, shouldn't the very fibre of assessment too change with the times? And shouldn't we be encouraging a mass migration of digital migrants to digital natives?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Looking at possibilities...but really who limits them?

It has been a while since I last blogged, and I must say it has been a good month-long hiatus for me. A good time for me to reflect, recollect, reconnect, and perhaps hibernate too. But then again, given the high bar that I have to be expected to perform and deliver in my new role, it is indeed overwhelming at times to reach out and up, and to meet up with that bar! But then again, what is life without bars and standards to meet up to..and I mean that in a good sort of way, not some social standards of sorts that can be little skewed, and perhaps not of the type that I will usually be adhering too.

But it is still a relatively new journey for me...taking small baby steps, but huge ones at that. Perhaps it will take a little while for me to make any significant progress that is visually impactful, but then again, I am willing to wait, explore, experiment. Cos what I am going into is something that is new and exciting. There will be disappointments definitely, but always take the view that there could never be apogees of happiness and satisfactions, without failures and disappointments along the way. Optimistic...yes. Scared...yes. But I guess this is something that I am going into for the long haul.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Branding a Design : Designing a Brand - the case of Branding versus Design

I remember asking my significant other this hypothetical question. If she were to undergo a blind test of choosing between two similarly and outstandingly designed bags, one by a brand that she is comfortable with, and the other, of a brand that she would not be caught carrying, which one would she select? And this is given the hypothetical scenario that both the logos or brands of the bags have been removed. Though the answer is inconclusive, but I do wonder whether a person's preference for a certain way that a particular item is designed, and his eventual and perpetual liking for a certain particular design, or sets of design, has anything got to do with nature!

I ask this because as I was watching a documentary from the Discovery Channel on how the physical, mental and social growth of an infant develops over the years from birth, what surprises me from the episode is about how at an early age of between 4 to 8 years of age, a child has already a nurturing inkling of what kind of person would he or she be liking, or have an affinity towards when he or she grows up. Though not necessarily be ending up as a life partner, what surprises me is perhaps this nurturing liking for a certain physical way that a potential partner will look like, or of how he or she would have a certain trait or character, that perhaps would be the differentiating factor of making someone a potential mate...or not.

Now that just makes me wonder whether deep down in our most innermost of recesses, and perhaps in the deepest and non-conscious parts of our cerebral cortex, we might just have this trigger of sorts that would draw us to a certain brand, item, or perhaps even design. Could this also answer the dilemma, and perhaps potentially a research area of sorts that I have been looking for an answer to, that perhaps in each of us, there is this certain nurturing element that does compel us to like or dislike a certain design? Like the saying that 'beauty is in the eyes of the beholder'...perhaps the concept of beauty is indeed within our own subconscious mind that has been programmed for us to behold...or NOT.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Design Education: By the Young, For the Young

It is indeed enlightening to see how my younger batch of students seem to perform this year, somewhat a little iffy at times, but more often, a little too eager at times to go ahead and finalise their design ideas, as opposed to the more composed, collected, and planned way of doing things that is a trademark of more mature, or even more adult design thinkers. But perhaps that is how design thinking for the younger folks are all about, getting right into the thick of action of doing things, rather than having a deep and thoughtful process. Or perhaps I should be looking at how I could marry their innate desire and need to be doing something right away, with the more elucidating practice of deep thinking, reflecting, ideating, prototyping, modelling, and stuffs like that, in order to make their design experiences an even more enriching and meaningful one. It would indeed be a challenge, but I guess with the various experimental lessons and tools that I have done so far, and have put in place in my past 6 years as an educator, I am very confident that I would be able to find and package an attractive design thinking, teaching and learning model that would be a peculiar trait of SST, perhaps a good model, not necessarily a perfect one, but good enough I hope, to be able to be identified with the SST branding that I would be proudly be part of in a mere 4 weeks or so.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The oxymoronic nature of Search 2.0

It's been a while since I last blogged, and well yeah I guess I have been busy with work lately, but hopefully with my swansong project coming to an end in a week's time, it would be nice if I can get the hang of blogging about the things that really matter to me...among others.

First off, let's just start with the recent announcement by Microsoft on their new search engine, their Search 2.0 that they nicknamed Bing. Interesting to note how a simple task of finding data and information has indeed transformed how the internet have evolved over the years, and have somehow too, evolve the way people use it. Now one interesting thing to note about this new concept of Search 2.0 is the need for greater relevance, or greater customisability of the results of the search engine for the end users. It would be interesting to see just what the hype is all about, but my concern here is not so much on the searching end of the equation, but more so on how things are organised. Would the enabling and pervasive use of such intelligent tools make Organise 1.0 obsolete? I mean really, if we were to think about it, with such an intelligent search engine, we would just need to store all the data into a single huge folder (either literally or metaphorically speaking as a vast majority of us here don't organise our files this way, but just for argument sake), and then let the engine do our work for us whenever we need to search for ANYTHING that we have stored. I mean really...that will indeed give a whole new meaning to what I would like to call 'Organised Chaos'.

Which perhaps bring me forth to another great idea, that perhaps any software company out there would like to take up as a challenge. As a follow up to my oxymoronic argument above, can you please then develop for me a software tool that allows me to put stuffs into only 1 folder, and then through some reverse-searching algorithm of sorts, the software will then organise the stuffs for me, whether be it pictures from my nephew's birthday last month, or my vacation trips, or files that needs some form of confidentiality and should be marked under 'confidential'. I mean I wouldn't really care how the software tool organises my data, but as long as I am able to retrieve them, and retrieve them quickly, that is all that matters. And I don't mean having a tool that would require the user to put in place tens of tags of that particular file, because if Organiser 2.0 is intelligent enough, it will be able to discern and make out the tags for the file itself. Can this be done? Hmmm?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Design Enligtenment

Bill Buxton in his book, 'Sketching User Experiences', has managed to elucidate some aspects of design, and especially so in the areas of user experiences. Many a times, designers have failed to understand the basics, and of the importance of getting the design right, and even having a branding value. Bill has managed to provide examples of how design can be made better, even in its infancy stages, through the use of rudimentary tools like paper and post-its. And what makes it even more interesting is how sometimes good design is something so simple to achieve!

One idea that I would like to highlight, and perhaps draw some parallels to in the areas of design education is in the concept of (n+1). In this section, Bill highlighted about the ever increasing, and sometimes even exponentially increasing costs that companies incur as they move on to produce their (n+1)th iteration of their current line of product. Logically speaking, one would assume that with every new iteration of a mature product, be it software or hardware, one can assume that costs would be cheaper, but the reverse instead holds true. Drawing comparisons to the design education, or in a general sense, the education field that I am in, what interests me is that as we tend to move into this obsession of compiling a list of best-practices, one must not forget that at times, the (n+1)th iteration of this practice might actually be prove to have the negating effect, rather than the intended one. My worry is that at times we are so consumed and concerned with attaining or coming out with list of best practices of our own, that we forget that at times, the early iterations of the thing that we are doing, is in fact THE best practice, and of which further iterations are no longer going to give us the same kind of results, or worst still, the same level of satisfaction.

Perhaps like what Albert Einstein used to say:
'Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.'

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The dichotomy of being a Leader

It has always perplexed me about what is THE X factor that makes one a good leader. Is it about the charisma of the person it about his or her ability to lead and provide that leadership towards a better eventuality, or perhaps is it about being able to have the vision and necessary wherewithal to push ahead with decisions, whatever or however hard a bitter pill it might take to swallow, and living and breathing later on to tell its tale? Well, seriously I don't really know, because I don't think I have an answer. But what I do know about myself, and my role as a leader is to be able to at least have the ability to envision what I want the organisation that I am leading to be heading towards, and to provide that support, and perhaps even be the first one to roll-up my sleeves and 'dirty' my hands to ensure that the ship will stay its course, and be able to reach its destination. And I do think that I am one of the most objective person around, or at least I think I am one of the most objective people that I know. And I am glad to be able to objectively state that my style of leadership has never been about being the most popular guy around, because that is not part of my agenda! And in fact I don't think my conscience will be clear if I adopted that approach, because it is simply not in my mental or metaphysical nature, to be wanting to take the lead in any leadership popularity poll of sorts. But it does saddens me that claims and counterclaims that have no basis seems to be the order of the day at times, but then again, do I give a hoot to them? Seriously I don't, but I guess this is just part and parcel of being a leader, and hopefully I can be a good one, and NOT a popular one!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The 10 commandments of good design

This is an interesting take on what makes a design good. The 10 commandments of Good Design, by Dieter Rams:

1) Good design is INNOVATIVE: It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product. The possibilities in this respect are by no means exhausted. Technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.

2) Good design make a product USEFUL: A product is bought in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose – in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimise the utility of a product.

3) Good design is aesthetic: The aesthetic quality of a product – and the fascination it inspires – is an integral part of its utility. Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to. However, it has always been a hard task to argue about aesthetic quality, for two reasons.

Firstly, it is difficult to talk about anything visual, since words have a different meaning for different people.

Secondly, aesthetic quality deals with details, subtle shades, harmony and the equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. A good eye is required, schooled by years and years of experience, in order to be able to draw the right conclusion.

4) Good design helps a product to be UNDERSTOOD: It clarifies the structure of the product. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory and saves you the long, tedious perusal of the operating manual.

5) Good design is UNOBTRUSIVE: Products that satisfy this criterion are tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained leaving room for the user’s self-expression.

6) Good design is HONEST: An honestly-designed product must not claim features – more innovative, more efficient, of higher value – it does not have. It must not influence or manipulate buyers and users.

7) Good design is DURABLE: It is nothing trendy that might be out-of-date tomorrow. This is one of the major differences between well-designed products and trivial objects for a waste-producing society. Waste must no longer be tolerated.

8) Good design is THOROUGH to the last detail: Thoroughness and accuracy of design are synonymous with the product and its functions, as seen through the eyes of the user.

9) Good design is CONCERNED with the ENVIRONMENT: Design must contribute towards a stable environment and a sensible use of raw materials. This means considering not only actual pollution, but also the visual pollution and destruction of our environment.

10) Good design is as LITTLE design as possible: Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Taken from

Friday, March 13, 2009

DropBox: Cool Web 2.0 wares

Just like to introduce one nifty tool that i have just discovered a few days ago called Dropbox. Basically a program with a very small footprint that allows you to store your files online. Now I have been using for a while now, and i do find the former much better. Plus the latter have been slow to provide a stable platform for Mac users like me. Dropbox is suitable for Mac, Windows and even Linux users! What can I say....uber cooool! The best part about using this tool is that your 'DropBox' will be a folder on your desktop (my preference) or anywhere that you would want to access within your system, and you can just drag and drop files into this folder, and it will then automatically synchronize the online and local versions of this folder/s! Here are some screenshots from my system:

Notice the status indicator on the menu bar of my Mac system.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish...

One of the most inspiring speeches that I've ever heard, from the man himself. I like the fact that when things happen, it is always for a reason, in fact that is the reason I always give to myself when shit happens, or when Murphy's Law kicks in! Cos you never know what can turn out next. If you have 11 minutes to spare, do take a listen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Touch-Screen Technology - looking into the crystal ball

I just came across this clip at, and these are really the epitome of what touch-screen technology can be, and ought to be. I can't begin to imagine what such a technology can do to the education system here, but what I do know is that if these are going to be a taste of the future of what Microsoft Labs have to offer, then I believe it is definitely a future that I'll be waiting for in bated breath. I do wonder too, if MS is that good, I guess Apple would be able to match it too right, or be even better! ;)

<a href="" target="_new" title="Future Vision Montage">Video: Future Vision Montage</a>

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Repair Manifesto

I think it is especially during this economic times that product designers should be looking at making products that are not only affordable, but also 'repairable'. Because it is interesting to note that as the pace of technological developments quickens, the consumers can't help but feel the pressure of replacing their outdated products more often out of a sheer need for being up-to-date, rather than out of necessity. I was thinking that perhaps there should be a movement of sorts, or even a branch of engineering, or science, or even a derivative of one of them, that dwells into the creation of 'a more repairable' product. It would be interesting to note how such a branch of study will be motivation enough for mankind to look at alternatives of how to best use the already limited resources that they have, and are provided for! Perhaps it is high time too that technological development, especially in the areas of product development, should be looking at some of the ideas that I have shared way earlier during one of my earlier posts, the idea that perhaps we could future-proof some of the products too, perhaps designing a design or a product, or parts of it, that would be able to last a few generations of that product itself, or perhaps having a label of sorts, that labels a product as being made from 'recyclable' material, but this time round, not in the usual sense of the word of recycling, but more so that the current design and make up of the product being designed and made up of parts from the design of the previous iteration/generation of the product family! That would be interesting, wouldn't it?

Which brings me to this idea of the Repair Manifesto, that I took up from site. It is really an interesting idea!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Land of the Failing iPhone

Thanks to marketing hype, and the perpetuating marketing hyperdrive that seems to up the 'coolness' ante, the iPhone has grown to be the 3rd largest selling handphone set in the world. But it seriously fails in the land of the rising sun, where surprisingly, the iPhone is somewhat of a product failure! Wired writes an interesting article on why this is so (Taken from here):

Why the Japanese Hate the iPhone
By Brian X. Chen

Apple's iPhone has wowed most of the globe — but not Japan, where the handset is selling so poorly it's being offered for free.

What's wrong with the iPhone, from a Japanese perspective? Almost everything: the high monthly data plans that go with it, its paucity of features, the low-quality camera, the unfashionable design and the fact that it's not Japanese.

In an effort to boost business, Japanese carrier SoftBank this week launched the "iPhone for Everybody" campaign, which gives away the 8-GB model of the iPhone 3G if customers agree to a two-year contract.

"The pricing has been completely out of whack with market reality," said Global Crown Research analyst Tero Kuittinen in regard to Apple's iPhone prices internationally. "I think they [Apple and its partners overseas] are in the process of adjusting to local conditions."

Apple's iPhone is inarguably popular elsewhere: CEO Steve Jobs announced in October that the handset drove Apple to becoming the third-largest mobile supplier in the world, after selling 10 million units in 2008. However, even before the iPhone 3G's July launch in Japan, analysts were predicting the handset would fail to crack the Japanese market. Japan has been historically hostile toward western brands — including Nokia and Motorola, whose attempts to grab Japanese customers were futile.

Besides cultural opposition, Japanese citizens possess high, complex standards when it comes to cellphones. The country is famous for being ahead of its time when it comes to technology, and the iPhone just doesn't cut it. For example, Japanese handset users are extremely into video and photos — and the iPhone has neither a video camera nor multimedia text messaging. And a highlight feature many in Japan enjoy on their handset is a TV tuner, according to Kuittinen.

What else bugs the Japanese about the iPhone? The pricing plans, Kuittinen said. Japan's carrier environment is very competitive, which equates to relatively low monthly rates for handsets. The iPhone's monthly plan starts at about $60, which is too high compared to competitors, Kuittinen added.

And then there's the matter of compartmentalization. A large portion of Japanese citizens live with only a cellphone as their computing device — not a personal computer, said Hideshi Hamaguchi, a concept creator and chief operating officer of LUNARR. And the problem with the iPhone is it depends on a computer for syncing media and running software updates via iTunes.

"iPhone penetration is very high among the Mac users, but it has a huge physical and mental hurdle to the majority who just get used to live with their cellphone, which does not require PC for many services," Hamaguchi said.

Cellphones are also more of a fashion accessory in Japan than in the United States, according to Daiji Hirata, chief financial officer of News2u Corporation and creator of Japan's first wireless LAN.

So that would suggest that in Japan, carrying around an iPhone — an outdated handset compared to Japanese cellphones — could make you look pretty lame.

Take for example Nobi Hayashi, a journalist and author of Steve Jobs: The Greatest Creative Director. His cellular weapon of choice when he spoke to June 2008? A Panasonic P905i, a fancy cellphone that doubles as a 3-inch TV. It also features 3-G, GPS, a 5.1-megapixel camera and motion sensors for Wii-style games.

"When I show this to visitors from the U.S, they're amazed," Hayashi told "They think there's no way anybody would want an iPhone in Japan. But that's only because I'm setting it up for them so that they can see the cool features."

Kuittinen said he's predicting Apple's next iPhone will have better photo capabilities, which could increase its odds of success in Japan. However, he said the monthly rates must be lowered as well.

Otherwise, Apple might as well say sayonara to Japan.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Curiously enlightened

It has been a good 8 weeks or so of teaching for me... so far, as I go back to the basics of design with my younger charges. I guess it is sometimes more fun to teach about the rudiments of design to the younger students, compared to the old. It has its limitations though, but all in all, it has been a rather enjoyable, enlightening, and more importantly, enriching experence for me. Nearing towards the end of the term, i do at times recollect and reflect about the things that I have taught, the things that I have learnt, (yesh you definitely can learn a thing or two from these kids), and the things that I think I could do, or could have taught better. 'It is all about the students' the mantra that I still stick by whenever I plan for any of my lessons, because no matter how interesting the lessons could be, from your own opinion, if the very people that you target your lessons to find it uninspiring, then I guess IT IS unsinspiring. And what I like about teaching these bunch is their honesty...I mean seriously what kind of profession gives you that dose of realism and honesty every single day, every single waking hour, of every single lesson that you conduct besides teaching. And as I sit back over the weekend, with books and journals to mark and grade, I would definitely like to sit back, and reflect upon my practices, and perhaps, just perhaps, think of ways to become an even better teacher in my next place of work!

Friday, February 27, 2009

This thing about resilience

It had been a rather frustrating past week for me, with all the requests by some of the students, and their parents, regarding their requests for the dropping of their O level subjects. What frustrates me is not so much about the request per se, but more so on the mental model that these 'droppers' seems to have regarding their subject selection. It seems pretty obvious that what these kids really need are a huge dose of mental resilience. Seriously I don't remember having to give up, or at least trying to give up the subjects that I was assigned to, no matter how I hated the subject matter, or the teacher, or both, when I was their age. I think for most of those in my age group, what we did was just to suck it up, go through the paces, and just 'bash through the wall'!

But this time round, things are happening differently! At the sight or at the mere hint of difficulty with the subject area, or even at the very thought of just even disliking the teacher that teaches the subject, guess what our students will do? Yeah, they would drop the subject! Lame reasons like: not interested in the subject, too much time to concentrate on the subject, and similar excuses, really seems to irk me at times, but no matter what, as far as possible we would try to accede to their requests! It is just that, at times to me, some of them are:

- really abusing the system of dropping the subjects, taking it as the easiest and fastest way out of doing work, or worst still, of really avoiding being put through their paces of really stretching their potential...they just do not seem to want their potentials stretched!
- asking their parents to talk to the teachers! I mean seriously, at the age of 16 and 17, don't you have the mental courage or necessary wherewithal to even put forth an articulate, logical and convincing argument about your 'case'. Do you really need to 'hide' behind your parents? I remember making my own decisions about which school to go to at the age of 12, and having the mental courage to want to choose what subjects I wanted to study at the age of 14-15. Seriously, I shudder to think, that when these students go on forth to their post-secondary institution, would they consider THAT easy way out too?

It can get frustrating at times to handles such cases or to be entertaining such issues, but I guess this is just part of parcel of how things would be, as we get to be a more inclusive profession. But what worries me even more is that if the society that we are currently moulding, the ones that are under our care right now, are not even ready to face a little bit of hardship, and lacking in what I call mental tenacity and resilience, and if things were to turn up just as bad like what we are experiencing right now with the economy, and if the 'Flatness' that I have been blogging about hits them, will they be able to survive? Maybe they really need a slight dose of realism in their lessons too!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Design Inundation

One of the key challenges that I have when talking or engaging my younger charges in the areas of design are their lack of exposure to what design is all about. It seems quite a challenge at times to make them 'see' deeper into what design is all about, 'listen' to what design has to offer from my exchanges with them, and to get them really into the groove of things and see to it that when they go away after the lessons, they will be 'enlightened' about how design is affecting or will affect them. But hey, I am relishing every moment of it...bearing in mind that sometimes it will take somewhat of a drastic measure at times to really make sure that some things just stays with them for a little while longer. Taking a leaf off how children learn their multiplication table, perhaps some form of a 'drilling' routine of sorts will actually be good for these charges of mine, but not of the rote learning that perhaps all of us, in our much younger days, are exposed to when we are required to learn our mathematical tables, but perhaps of a similar nature.

I was merely thinking that perhaps the design equivalent of such an endeavour will be good. Something that perhaps I would like to 'nickname' a Design Inundation of all things design, this could be a single session, or a series of sessions, in which my young charges are constantly being 'bombarded' by designerly stuffs, about how things are designed, about what design is all about, and more importantly about how design does affect them in more ways than they can think of. More importantly, such an exposure should be made to engage and 'touch' them on a visceral level, the level of which I think it will be more successful for any knowledge nugget to be retained inside their grey matter. And I think it should go beyond just the theoretical practices and coverage of what design is about, but also includes the multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted nature of design, about how design can be the unifying factor of what the other subject disciplines have to offer, and about how design can make and break a culture (think iPod), an economy (think what Chocolate and watches have done for the Swiss) or even a civilisation (think of what paper has done to the Chinese)...and I think you know what I am trying to arrive at!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Do Schools Kill Creativity

This is a wonderful video from that was recommended by one of my readers/commenters. Thanks to him, I have a better appreciation of what education is all about, and about what creativity and intelligence really mean. It will take time to revolutionise the mankind's mental models on what education is all about, but unless we try and do something about it, we will never ever get to celebrate fully the hope that our children bring into our lives, from their education. Clip taken from here. Enjoy...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Uninstalling applications in Mac

Although the Mac OS platform is known for its simplicity in removing applications, by just the mere 'thrashing' of its single application file, nonetheless there are application files of some applications that will still 'linger' around way after the main application file has been deleted, ala the Windows platorm.

And this is where the freeware application called AppZapper is a godsend. Installing it is a breeze, and it doesn't take a huge amount of real estate space in your hard disks. Just activate it, move the required application that needs to be removed into the windows (see picture), click ok to remove all of the removed application's files, and walla, all is done. Try it!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Drawing Development in Children - A design educator's perspective

As I was researching for materials on teaching and learning about design, little did I realise this need to also consider the artistic development of my charges, as I move into looking at their overall level of designerly intelligence, or what I shall call their Design Quotient (DQ). It is interesting to note that there are indeed a few literature that deals with the topic on a child's artistic and sketching development, but there are even fewer...if any at all, that deals specifically with using their sketching ability to explain their designerly thoughts! One site that I saw reveals a very interesting yet easily understood table of sorts ( on the drawing development of children, the screenshot as shown below.

What I am curious to know is how children develop their design thinking, and what better way to explain their understanding of the design process than through the medium of expression offered by sketching and drawing. Nothwithanding their rather limited ability to offer at least a basic degree of realism in their sketches, but what i am more concerned here is not so much of the realism of these ideas, as to the ability to put onto paper their thoughts and as far as design is concerned.

I do remember sketching out a bulky design of a wrist-band-like contraption that will enable its user to 'shoot' short arrows tied to strings, using springs...after being inspired by watching the TV version of Spiderman, back when I was just a 7-year old Primary 1 student! Now what I am curious is what goes through the mind of similarly-aged children, or even older, when they pencil down their sketches. Was there any design enlightenment when they sketch out those sketches? Details...what about the details that they put in into their sketches? Does these reveal a lot more about these children, especially so about their ability to see things beyond just the obvious? Give me some time to dwell on this a little further, and I do hope to be able to offer a little bit more.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What Should Designers Study?

As I was researching for materials on the teaching and learning of design, and about design, I came across this article which I do find an enjoyable short read. I hope you do enjoy it. It's taken from here:

What Should Designers Study?
by Martha Retallick, "The Passionate Postcarder"

Young people who are contemplating a design career often seek advice on
what they should study. To them I say, "Anything and everything!" Why do I offer this advice? Because you never know when something you've learned may come in handy.

Here in Arizona, there has been much controversy surrounding Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne's recent suggestion that fourth-year high school math should be dropped as a state university admission requirement. Mr. Horne was even quoted in the newspaper as saying that calculus and trigonometry are not useful to most adults.

Permit me to share the story of a recent problem I encountered in my
graphic design practice: I was designing a postcard, and wanted to add an accent to the lettering in the card. But nothing I tried had the right look. So, I decided to apply a bit of knowledge that I'd gained in a college calculus class taken more than a quarter century ago. Viola, the accent came out perfectly.

Okay, so you might be asking, "Why should I take advice on calculus from a designer?" Why, indeed. Perhaps you'd rather take a doctor's advice on classical music. Permit me to introduce you to our consulting physician, Benjamin Carson, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

He grew up in the ghettoes of Detroit and Boston, and was, by his own
admission, the dumbest kid in his class until the fifth grade. That's when his mother decided to restrict the amount of television Ben and his brother, Curtis, watched. She believed that the boys' heavy TV viewing
habits were having a negative effect on their grades. This made Ben and
Curtis very unhappy.

Even worse, Mean Old Mom made the two boys read two books a week. And they had to give her a written report on what they had learned.
For Ben, the payoff came one day in science class. The teacher had brought a shiny black rock, and only one kid knew what it was. Not only did Ben correctly identify the rock as obsidian, he also described how the rock was created through volcanic activity. Both the teacher and the class were amazed. And Ben Carson turned into a knowledge junkie. By seventh grade, he was the top student in his class.

In high school, his TV viewing was still restricted, but Ben took quite a
liking to a quiz show called "College Bowl." He dreamed of going to college
and participating in the show. But "College Bowl" had two categories where he wasn't an expert: fine art and classical music. As he writes in his book Think Big, "[W]hat would a poor, black kid from a lower economic background in Detroit know about those two areas?"

So, he started visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts, and listening to the
local classical music station. "My friends thought I was weird," he recalls.
Alas, "College Bowl" went off the air before Ben Carson had a chance to
enter the competition. But, when he interviewed for a residency position at Johns Hopkins, he was delighted to find that the neurosurgery training program director was a classical music buff. In fact, they had both attended the same concert the night before.

Again from Think Big, he recalls, "We discussed the concert, moved into a
discussion of classical music in general, and soon the time allotted for
the interview ran out. I was one of the two interns accepted into the
neurosurgery residency program." Ben Carson's knowledge of classical music also helped him impress a fellow Detroiter who later became his wife. Ben and Candy Carson have three sons, who perform in the Carson Four string quartet with their mother.

The moral of my story is that no knowledge is ever wasted. So, study
anything and everything!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cool Mac Freeware

Another new feature that I would like to introduce into my blog is to do review of Mac-based software, be it freeware or otherwise, that I have used or tried, and would like to recommend to all of my readers. And no, i don't earn anything from them, although I won't mind donations though! :)

Here's my first one:

One of the problems that I have with the Mac interface is in the limited space available should I need to use the other 80% of the software available, you know the other 80% of which you would only use 20% of the time. Well RapidoStart from has got the answer for you. It enables users to organise their icons/applications, according to a selected set defined by the user. So you can set a group of applications for your photography and photoshopping jaunts, and another group for your serious work on analysis of data, and perhaps another set on other media applications. All of these will set on a layered interface that will not clutter your screen, because it will only show up when you press a keyboard shortcut, or a small button, both of which are non-intrusive in nature and can be defined by the user too. And best of all, its free! Take a look at my screenshot.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Free training notes on integrating Picasa, Google Earth and Google SketchUp

I had the opportunity to train a group of 23 of my colleagues in the use of's and's timelining Web 2.0 tools, as well as the integrative use of Picasa and Google's free offerings of Earth and SketchUp. I hope it was a good awareness session for all of them, and hopefully they have enjoyed it, in as much as I have enjoyed and learned from the training and the materials preparation. Here's the training guide that I am currently making available free of charge to all netizens. Comments and feedback are most welcome. Do gmail me at irfandarian if you need the word copies of the guides.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Design is supposed to be?

I came across this article on the 4 fields of Industrial Design from the site, and I must say that it is one of the best piece that I've ever read. I'd just like to share it with my readers here, whether designers or not. Original article, with pictures, is here. Enjoy and be enlightened...

The 4 Fields of Industrial Design: (No, not furniture, trans, consumer electronics, & toys), by Bruce M. Tharp and Stephanie M. Tharp

You do what?

"So, you design factory machines? Is that what you mean?" Many of us have switched from calling ourselves "industrial designers" to saying that we are "product designers." But the difficulty grows if your design work does not fall squarely inside the commercial realm—the experimental stuff, the artsy stuff, or not-for-profit stuff.

The confusions are understandable. Not only has the profession never had its own television series with a catchy abbreviated title to predicate popular understanding (E.R., CSI: NY, L.A. Law, Dr. 90201), but the discipline is relatively young, immensely broad, and ever expanding. What is hard to reckon with, however, is the confusion that exists even within the profession of industrial design: What activities do product designers recognize, champion, or even legitimize? What are the frameworks around our practice, and how are those communicated to the outside world?
Design is pretty much a mess. Just try and make sense of the range of the terms floating around out there: user-centered design, eco-design, design for the other 90%, universal design, sustainable design, interrogative design, task-centered design, reflective design, design for well-being, critical design, speculative design, speculative re-design...

Design is a mess
The problem is that design is pretty much a mess. Just try and make sense of the range of the terms floating around out there: user-centered design, eco-design, design for the other 90%, universal design, sustainable design, interrogative design, task-centered design, reflective design, design for well-being, critical design, speculative design, speculative re-design, emotional design, socially-responsible design, green design, conceptual design, concept design, slow design, dissident design, inclusive design, radical design, design for need, environmental design, contextual design, and transformative design.

Without a compelling, indeed, taxonomic, way of organizing design activity, we are selling ourselves short; we not only have difficulty understanding the profession ourselves, but also in communicating to the world our potency, range, and potential impact. In the end, we seem scattered and "designy"—in a less-than-flattering sense of the word.

As academics responsible for making sense of this jumble for our students then, we feel like those professional bic-a-brac organizers you see on daytime talk shows, confronting the tumult of someone's bloated car garage. So after some long days and a dumpster-load of capabilities lists, here we present everything neatly ordered onto 4 shelving units. Behold the Design Garage—a categorizing of designed-object activity into four primary fields: Commercial Design, Responsible Design, Experimental Design, and Discursive Design. Let's take a closer look at each, focusing on the drivers, criteria for success, and primary intents:

Commercial Design
Commercial Design is what is commonly understood as industrial/product design and comprises the overwhelming majority of our professional activity. This is design work oriented toward, and driven by, the market. Success is largely defined in economic terms—sufficient return on investment. The primary intent of the designer is to create useful, useable, and desirable products that customers can afford and that generate adequate profit.

With the iPhone, we have what is rudimentarily a gadget, be it seductive in form and sophisticated in function. It has proven quite profitable for Apple, as even between the announcement of its sale in January 2007 and the first days in the store, their stock value increased 65%, and then up to a 135% total increase by the end of the year.

And beyond the realm of gadgetry, Phillipe Starck's Louis Ghost chair for Kartell sold over 200,000 units in 2006. Now selling for $410 at the MoMA store, this could represent over $80,000,000 in retail sales. While just a (highly profitable) chair, Starck includes an element of "concept" in its design, capturing the spirit of classic Louis XV chair, but in 21st Century polycarbonate plastic. Aside from this perhaps "artistic" quality and intellectual content, it is still an object that was designed using cutting edge industrial processes for a mass market, with the chief intent of producing profit for Kartell.

The primary (though not only) driver of Commercial Design is to make money.

Responsible Design
Responsible Design encompasses what is largely understood as socially responsible design, driven by a more humanitarian notion of service. Here the designer works to provide a useful, useable, and desirable product to those who are largely ignored by the market. Issues such as ethics, compassion, altruism, and philanthropy surround the work, be it for users in developing or developed countries. While Responsible Design can and often does have a relation to the market—being "commercially available"—its primary intent is not a maximization of profit, but instead to serve the underserved.

The XO laptop of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program is a prime example that has garnered a great deal of press in recent years. It is typical in that the device is commercially available (to governments and aid organizations), though it is not conventional in its means of distribution nor with its philanthropic intent.

Another example that helps make the distinction from Commercial Design is the Ableware one-handed cutlery set, which with the aid of a spring mechanism cuts a bite-sized piece of food and allows it to be skewered on fork tines with a simple downward motion. With this product, amputees and people with limited dexterity are better able to feed themselves and live more independently. While this is a product that exists on the market, the impetus was compassion—this object is not highly profitable as the target audience is fairly limited. The designer's primary intention was one of service.

(It may be helpful to compare Ableware to OXO Goodgrips, where Sam Farber wanted to create a commercially viable mass product line around more comfortable and grip-able handles. While initially inspired by his wife, he saw a market opportunity of "20 million Americans like Betsy who suffered from arthritis" and subsequently "interviewed retailers and buyers to identify the best-selling and most important items" for the first OXO products. Responsible products certainly can be profitable, but we doubt that if Farber had not seen such a viable business opportunity he would have proceeded with his project. As such, Ableware is a more pure example of Responsible Design, and we would classify OXO as Commercial Design—primary intent—but one that also has a strong secondary concern for service to a somewhat ignored market.)

The primary (though not only) driver of Responsible Design is to help those in need.

Experimental Design
Experimental Design represents a fairly narrow swath within the broad field of design, and its primary intention is exploration, experimentation, and discovery. Experimental Design is defined perhaps more by its process than its outcome. In its purest form it is not driven by an overly specific end-goal of application, but instead is motivated by a curiosity—an inquiry into, for example: a technology, a manufacturing technique, a material, a concept, or an aesthetic issue. Much of the work at MIT's Media Lab is fairly typical of this kind of design: technological investigations that are often only obtusely practicable and relevant to the immediate and everyday. Just as with Responsible Design, a marketable object may eventually result from an experimental project, especially after refinement and after it is directed at a specific market. But the primary intent of Experimental Design is to explore possibilities with less regard for serving the market.

Front Design's Animals Project
Popular Swedish design group, Front Design, created their Animals Project as a way of exploring the possibilities of a non-humanly-mediated production process: "We asked animals to help us [design products]. 'Sure we'll help you out,' they answered. 'Make something nice,' we told them. And so they did."

What resulted were everyday objects: wallpaper that was "decorated" by a gnawing rat, a lamp cast from a rabbit's burrow, wall hooks that were formed by constricting snakes, a lampshade created after recording a fly's path around a light bulb, a vase created by casting the impression of a dog's leg in deep snow, and a table who's top is patterned by the paths of wood consuming beetles. None of these everyday products were commercialized; they were not intended to be viable products, but instead the product-form was the means through which they investigated ideas of randomness and mediation within the context of mass-production and everyday objects.

The primary (though not only) driver of the Experimental Design is to explore.

Discursive Design
Discursive Design refers to the creation of utilitarian objects whose primary purpose is to communicate ideas—they encourage discourse. These are tools for thinking; they raise awareness and perhaps understanding of substantive and often debatable issues of psychological, sociological, and ideological consequence. Discursive Design is the type of work that is generally less visible in the marketplace (though it can certainly exist there), but rather is most often seen in exhibition, print, and film. This is where design rubs up most closely against art. Importantly, however, these are objects of utility that carry ideas; in order to be considered design rather than art, they function (or could function) in the everyday world, but their discursive voice is what is most important and ultimately their reason for being.

The Placebo Project by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby is a strong example of Discursive Design, where they wanted to raise awareness and debate regarding the role and costs of technology in contemporary life through the topic of Hertzian space—the engulfing fields of invisible electromagnetic waves generated by electrical devices. One object from the series is the Compass Table, which is an ordinary, unadorned wooden table whose top surface has been embedded with twenty-five simple, navigational compasses. The table functions as any other table would. However, when, for example, a cell phone sitting on the table rings, the compass needles begin to dance and make visible the electromagnetic waves that enter into the home and surround its occupants.

Another more literal example is with Brazilian designer, Rafael Morgan's Indigestive Plates. These are classic ceramic dinner plates that have a message about poverty and hunger printed in thermochromatic ink. At room temperature the plate seems conventional, but when a dinner guest begins to finish their hot meal, they are confronted with a message such as: "Every day 16,000 children die of hunger-related causes." Morgan imagines "what would happen if we disguise some of [these] plates in an expensive snob restaurant...or maybe in some important political meeting?" Here a product offers typical utility, but is foremost designed to instigate and quite literally carry a provocative message.

The primary (though not only) driver of Discursive Design is to express ideas.

The Overlap
In presenting the aforementioned product examples from the four fields, we chose more "pure" versions of each. As mentioned, this framework is based upon the primary intention of the designer, yet we fully recognize the reality of multiple motivations. It important to emphasize that the categories are not entirely distinct from one another—there is overlap.

In fact, it is rare for any product to be "pure," in the sense that it is a result of a single intention (e.g., profitability, service, experimentation, or voice). Most products are the result of multiple intentions, like OXO's interest in commercially successful mass-products that also serve the dexterously challenged.

A strong example of "impurity," or more appropriately, "hybridity" would be the Hug salt and pepper shakers designed by Alberto Mantilla. They are very successful commercially, and yet have a strong and intentional discursive voice. These are two shakers abstractly anthropomorphized, which differ only in color—one white and one black. The shakers, with their stubby arms, nest together appearing to hug each other. As described by the designer, "[Their] very nature...connotes brotherhood. The bold use of black and white suggests that we are all brothers and sisters on this planet and we need to treat each other with kindness, compassion and respect." To truly understand these as either a commercial object or a discursive object, it would be necessary to understand the primary intention of the designer, which cannot always be read from the objects—especially in hybrids. Along with this overlap, it should also be emphasized that all four fields represent relative- rather than ultimate-states; objects range in their commercial-, exploratory-, responsible-, and discursive-capacity.

So what?
It might be easy to respond to this conceptualization of four fields as an interesting contribution to design theory, but is it actionable in the "real" complex work of design practice? As authors/academics/designers who confront daily the theory/practice divide ourselves, we feel confident that there are important implications of such a framework for designers, the profession, and the consumers of design.

1. First, we know from experience with our students and many seasoned practitioners that there is a sense of comfort and even relief that comes from the legitimization of the range of their design work/ideas. There are many professionals who do "side work"—considering it "conceptual" and sometimes hiding it or sheepishly refering to as "design-art" on their websites. (This was the case at one point for Scott Wilson and Mike and Maaike, for example.) This four-field approach offers formal acknowledgement, and challenges the dominant legacy of 20th-century industrial design with its inextricable link to markets and its focus on "problem solving."

2. Similarly, once the range of design work is recognized and "sanctioned," forces can rally around it and move it toward full potential. In many ways this has happened in the last decade with Responsible Design. We now understand what it is, how it relates to the profession, and corporate pro-bono initiatives and groups like Project H are understood, championed, and are becoming more mainstream. We imagine that once the IDSA adds to their professional interest sections Discursive Design and Experimental Design groups, we will see the same kind of advances that have occurred since their establishment of responsible design sections such as Universal Design and Design for the Majority.

3. Since this framework is based upon design intention, its structure can help designers better understand and focus their projects. The fields help the designer get straight on their overall intention and how overlap or hybridity might help or hurt, as well as how the context of use/consumption comes into play.

4. Professionally, this scheme also helps Industrial/Product Design communicate with the world that it engages. Once we understand the various intentions and roles that we can take on, the better we can clarify and be taken as seriously as we often wish we would be. Those who work in staunchly commercial realms can easily distinguish their activity from the other forms, and vice-versa. Experimental Design or Discursive Design, which can resemble art or mere frivolity, have a means of expressing distinction and value in their activities.

5. The formal inclusion of other modes of design beyond the commercial moves us beyond the role of handmaiden to industry; our profession is seen as being able to serve along broader intellectual and social lines. It helps establish designers as important local and global citizens as well as influential cultural agents.

6. With this framework, consumers of design have a more established basis for understanding intentionality and therefore a basis for evaluation. Experimental and discursive work are often erroneously subjected to the same measures of success as commercial work (blog commentary is notorious for this). When consumers are aware of designers' intentions, then more effective communication results: the designer is better satisfied because an object's goals are understood, and the consumer can focus more precisely on what value they may extract from the work.

7. And finally, the consumer can see their role shift from a position of passivity (when striking an all-too-common commercial posture) to a more active engagement in work that intends on engaging the intellect or prompting debate.

Names and frameworks are powerful. Our hope is that understanding the design landscape through these four, simple categories—Commercial Design, Responsible Design, Experimental Design, and Discursive Design—will help the profession, our "consumers," and ourselves better understand design activity and ultimately its potential in an increasingly complex world of ideas and objects.

Educated as a mechanical engineer, industrial designer, and sociocultural anthropologist, Dr. Bruce M. Tharp (bruce.tharp[at]core77[dot]com), is an assistant professor of Designed Objects at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). He and his wife Stephanie Tharp (snmunson[at]uic[dot]edu), Associate Professor of Industrial Design at the University of Illinois-Chicago, are currently working on a book project, entitled Discursive Design. In addition to their academic work, they have a studio, materious, through which they create across all four fields of designed objects.